Arclight – Designing affordable eyecare

February 23, 2018

William J Williams has created a miniature, low-cost medical device which allows healthcare workers in the poorest countries around the world to quickly diagnose common eye and ear problems.

“Traditional diagnostic instruments for examining eyes and ears are expensive, complex, and heavy,” he says.

“In low to middle income countries few hospital-based health workers have access to these essential devices and almost none at the community level. 80% of the 180 million people in the world who are blind could see if diagnosed and treated promptly with a device like the Arclight, and then subsequently treated.”

The Arclight project started as “just a fun weekend challenge to simplify the ophthalmoscope – an instrument for examining eyes – making it lighter, cheaper, and maybe even better”.

“The first prototype – which took ten minutes to make – used a lollipop stick that was tested on a cat, a dog, child, middle-aged person, then a pensioner – in order of ascending eye and pupil viewing difficulty,” he adds.

Removing almost every component of traditional ophthalmoscopes and replacing them with simpler and more robust alternatives – such as LEDs instead of “fragile filament bulbs” – helped reduce both weight and cost. Another design solution was to remove the mirrors usually used inside these devices, “so users can hold it close to both their own and the patient’s eye for a clear dust-free view”.

A medical professional training with the Arclight

The inspiration for this challenge came from an unlikely place. “I’ve always been amazed by ‘pound shops’ – of how things can be manufactured, packaged and shipped around the world and still be so cheap! Combining a knowledge of optics and electronics, I figured I could create something low-cost too,” William explains.

The project has benefited from support from the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness in London, the International Centre for Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the Global Health Implementation Team at the University of St Andrews, where William is an Honorary Research Fellow.

Today, more than 10,000 Arclights have been distributed around the world, including through healthcare programmes in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, “leading to reductions in blindness with improved educational and economic outcomes”. A social enterprise based at the University of St Andrews sells the Arclight in the UK, using profits to support distribution of the devices and training in some of the poorest countries worldwide.

“Good design has been one of the driving forces of progress and change throughout the history of our culture,” William adds. “It continues as part of the great conversation about how we should live and how we should organise our world. Design is vital.”

We are delighted to welcome William to our group of Design Champions, both as the lead designer and on behalf of everyone who has worked on the Arclight project – using design to simply and radically improve the lives of people around the world.

To find out more, please visit the Arclight website.

The V&A Dundee Design Champions are inspirational designers creating high-quality work and helping to enhance people’s lives, or champions of the power of design to improve the world.

We will announce 50 Design Champions in the run-up to the museum opening on Saturday 15 September 2018.


V&A Dundee’s Design Champions project is working with Dezeen as its media partner.

Dezeen is the world’s most popular and influential architecture and design magazine, with an audience of 2.5 million unique visitors each month. 

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